That pension reform plan's election talk, Mr Johnson
Sunday 27 February 2005
Former prime minister Harold Wilson said that a week was a long time in politics, so imagine what eight years must represent. Plenty of time to hammer out, mould, polish and finely tune a government policy, you might think.
Yet what the Government has to show for the best part of a decade on state and private pensions is risible. Sure, politics is at best an imprecise science full of tacks, turns and U-turns, but the ruins of the pensions landscape lying in front of us take some beating.
Alan Johnson, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, treated us to a six-point plan of principles for pension reform last week. In no particular order, they are to tackle poverty; give everybody a chance to save; affordability; clarity; a fairer deal for women (discriminated against for staying at home to raise a family); and to plough ahead with a broad consensus.
The desperate need to reform women's pensions rights aside, this hot air is little more than common sense. Never mind the fact that there will be no movement on any long-term UK pension planning until Adair Turner reports back in October with his Pension Commission recommendations on how Britons can best afford to retire. Such mealy-mouthed government proposals can mean only one thing: did someone say "election"?
An actual date has yet to be fashioned out of the current round of electioneering, but the publication of the six-point plan was little less than a stunt to try to wrest back control of the pre-polling day agenda. The pressure for pre-eminence in the pension debate has begun to tell.
In the past 10 days, Conservative leader Michael Howard vowed to boost pension payouts to the elderly, end means-testing for state benefits, and change the rules that can force elderly people to sell their homes to pay for long-term residential care.
The Liberal Democrats plan to raise the state pension to the minimum income guarantee (currently £105.45 for a single pensioner) and link future rises to earnings.
To be fair, there wasn't much else that Mr Johnson could say. Bound by duty to wait until the outcome of the Turner Report, his hands are tied. And in any case, except for positive noises over notions of a "citizen's pension" that depends on residency rules rather than time in the work-place, the cupboards are bare.
Meanwhile, his department has been desperately trying to keep a lid on public dissent over compensation payouts to thousands of workers, whose company pension schemes have gone bust since 1997.
Last week, it moved to clear up some of the confusion by announcing that employees who were within three years of their scheme's pension age would receive 80 per cent of their core retirement benefits. The money will come out of the £400m pensions "lifeboat", launched last year to help the 65,000 workers affected.
However, a question mark still hangs over the financial fate of those younger workers who won't qualify for this deal - as well as over the size of the fund deemed by many to be too small. Set against the gravity of their plight, Mr Johnson's six-point pension principles plan looks like a flimsy nod towards a much brighter future.
This is a shame because he is as good a choice of Secretary of State for Work and Pensions as we have had. He has proved approachable, sympathetic to the particular problems of the long-term savings industry, and open to new ideas.
It is to be hoped that, after the general election (assuming Labour wins) and Mr Turner checks in, he will be given a free hand to make a proper fist of the UK pensions industry rather than devote his time to politicking. We live in hope.
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food
iJobs Money & Business
£43500 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operatio...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000 + Car + Pension: SThree: SThree are a ...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K: SThree: We consistently strive to be the...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...
Day In a Page
A three-bedroom villa with self-contained flat, minutes from Lake Windermere
A deceptively spacious, beautifully presented Georgian home with 3000sq ft of living space and five reception rooms
A five-bedroom Victorian home with four receptions, superb gardens and paddock in Pembury
An eight-bedroom house on the south side of the The Green with cinema, wine cellars and summer house
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park
A state-of-the-art farm-building conversion on the former Cliveden Estate, with 11,420sq ft of internal space, cinema and wine cellar
A three-bedroom, 15th-century cottage with original features in the picturesque village of Sissinghurst
A six-bedroom terraced house with large south-facing roof terrace, cinema room and wine cellar
A new seven-bedroom home built in Queen Anne-style with swimming pool and parkland views in Mortimer
A listed, four-bedroom farmhouse in the rural hamlet of Rushall with detached barn, four acres of gardens and paddocks
A first-floor flat with two bedrooms, a spacious reception room and communal grounds in a leafy part of London
A three-bedroom flat with a spacious rootop terrace and balcony, accessed from a private gated courtyard
A Grade II-listed pile with six bedrooms, stables and 39 acres of grounds in Standlake
A two-bedroom flat with boutique hotel-style interiors, close to the foodie haunt of West End Lane
A two-bedroom flat in a beautiful old vicarage, with many original features, close to the city centre
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
Chapel House is a former vicarage with nine bedrooms in the beautiful Upper Wye Valley
A five-bedroom B&B and separate owner's accomodation with potential for conversion
Enjoy summer by the Thames in this two double-bedroom converted warehouse in Rotherhithe village
A one-bedroom, luxury apartment with private gym and concierge service in Moorgate
A four-bedroom house in Hermitage Gardens with three reception rooms and landscaped gardens